James L. “Jimmy” Roberts, Ph.D., died at home in San Antonio, surrounded by love, on the evening of October 30, 2023.
Roberts was born in Lima, Peru, on October 23, 1951, to David and Mary Fuller Roberts. His U.S. military childhood exposed him to excellent teachers and school systems across the country, including in Fort Bliss, where cutting-edge science was discussed over dinner, and in Washington, D.C., where he played hooky to pore over early science books in the Library of Congress.
Roberts received his undergraduate degree from Colorado State University, his doctorate in chemistry/biochemistry from the University of Oregon, and a fellowship in molecular endocrinology from UC San Francisco. He then joined the faculty of Columbia University in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and the Center for Reproductive Sciences.
In 1986, Roberts founded the Dr. Arthur M. Fishberg Research Center for Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, creating one of the foremost centers for neuroscience in the country. In 2001, Roberts and his wife moved to the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA), where he helped build the Center for Biomedical Neuroscience.
In 2008, Roberts joined the faculty of Trinity University as the Ruth C. and Andrew G. Cowles Distinguished Professor of Life Science to help build the neuroscience undergraduate major. In true Trinity fashion, he valued an interdisciplinary approach to science, seeing the similarities between being a scientist and an artist.
In the July 2014 issue of Trinity magazine, Roberts expressed this sentiment as he reflected on the then-new Center for the Sciences and Innovation on campus. “A lot of scientists will say there’s no art to doing science—it’s either black or it’s white,” he said. “But that’s not true. You have to follow the protocols, but the truth is that any good scientist knows you have to fine-tune everything. Fine-tuning something, knowing exactly how to tweak the microscope to do this, just how to tweak this machine, that’s exactly what an artist does. That’s why I really like [the Center for the Sciences and Innovation], with the mixing and matching of disciplines.”
Before arriving at Trinity, he taught medical and graduate school students for 36 years, and he mentored his Trinity undergraduates with the same enthusiasm.
In a 2018 Trinitonian article announcing his retirement, Roberts used the following metaphor to describe his excitement in seeing his students mature and prosper. “It’s almost like a metamorphosis. You leave in the spring, and you go off to do something for the summer, and you come back in the fall, and you’re no longer a little puppy with big paws. You’re now this sleek, beautiful creature that has come back and matured,” he said. “To see that over and over again is refreshing.”
After retiring from Trinity University in 2018, he worked with UTHSCSA until 2021.
Visit the Porter Loring website to view his full obituary.